Georgia Bulldogs: Zach DeBell

We're closing in on the start of spring practice at Georgia, so this week we will take a look at five position battles worth watching this spring.

The first two installments covered the competitions at safety and defensive line. Today, let's move to the offensive tackles. Georgia lost a longtime starter in left tackle Kenarious Gates and have two part-time starters returning.

[+] EnlargeJohn Theus
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIJohn Theus has started 21 games during his first two seasons at Georgia.
Returning starters: Entering his junior season, John Theus has already started 21 games. He manned the right tackle spot for all 14 games in 2012 and started the last seven games of 2013. He and the versatile Kolton Houston, who started the first six games last season, handled most -- if not all -- of the significant snaps at right tackle last fall.

Departures: Gates was never a star, but he was reliable, closing his career starting 33 consecutive games split between guard and tackle. He was exclusively the Bulldogs' starting left tackle for the last two seasons, so Georgia has a significant hole to fill in protecting new quarterback Hutson Mason's blind side.

Returning reserves: This is where things get interesting. We know that rising juniors Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell are tackles, and we assume that Theus and Houston will remain at the position, but position coach Will Friend doesn't hesitate to juggle rotations. Seniors Mark Beard and Watts Dantzler and redshirt freshman Aulden Bynum are each listed as guards, but all of them have the size and ability to play tackle. If Friend doesn't like the way things are shaping up -- or even if he does and simply wants to weigh all of his options -- don't be surprised if he shuffles some of these guys inside and out.

Newcomers: Bynum is the only possible tackle who redshirted last season, but the Bulldogs signed three potential tackles last month in Dyshon Sims, Kendall Baker and Jake Edwards -- none of whom will arrive on campus until the summer.

What to watch: Offensive linemen are accustomed to players at other positions getting all of the attention, but the tackle races rank among the most important position battles for the Bulldogs this spring. Friend's offensive line had an up-and-down season in 2013, but it might get off to a much better start if Theus and Houston -- or a different candidate -- lock down the tackle spots by proving they can handle the job during spring practice. Houston didn't even know if he would be able to play at this time last year thanks to a long-running NCAA eligibility dispute. He definitely looked rusty at times, particularly when trying to anticipate the snap count in noisy road venues. Now he has a season of steady playing time under his belt, and most of the other leading tackle candidates have played in big games as well. Someone simply needs to prove to Friend that he deserves the job. Otherwise, expect to see Georgia continue to rotate players in and out until Friend discovers a combination that he likes.

Players to watch: Theus/Houston

February, 27, 2014
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With spring practice still a few weeks away, this week we'll discuss five players to watch once the Bulldogs open workouts on March 18.

[+] EnlargeJohn Theus
AP Photo/Paul AbellJohn Theus took a step back after a freshman All-American season in 2012.
We discussed wide receiver Jonathon Rumph, offensive guard Brandon Kublanow and defensive lineman Toby Johnson to start the week. We move on Thursday to two candidates to fill the starting spots at offensive tackle this fall.

John Theus and Kolton Houston (offensive tackles, Jr. and Sr.)

2013 review: After starting all 14 games at right tackle and making multiple freshman All-American teams in 2012, Theus found himself in a reserve role to open his sophomore season. He started just once in the first six games while Houston held down the right tackle spot. As the season progressed, however, they flipped roles and Theus started the last seven games and Houston played as a reserve.

Why spring is important: Longtime starting left tackle Kenarious Gates was a senior last fall, so not only was the job that Theus and Houston juggled last year up for grabs, but so is Gates' old spot on the left side of the line. Considering how Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell have yet to make much of an impact at Georgia, Theus and Houston seem like the favorites to win the starting jobs. Senior Mark Beard, who has played both guard and tackle, might also be a possibility. Nonetheless, offensive line coach Will Friend will likely look at several groups along a line that must replace three starters. Theus and Houston had their ups and downs a season ago, so they could use a strong spring to alleviate some of the uncertainty that the line carries into the upcoming practices.

Best case/worst case: Georgia fans were excited about what the future held for Theus entering his sophomore season, but he didn't make enormous strides in his second season on campus. Likewise, Houston made his long-awaited debut following a lengthy NCAA eligibility dispute and frequently looked like a player who hadn't been able to earn any game experience in his first three seasons at Georgia. Since both players seem likely to contribute as part of a rotation at minimum -- and likely as starters -- a worst-case scenario would have them playing at the same level as they did in 2013. Theus and Houston are capable of much more, however, and a consistent spring could help them nail down starting tackle jobs and solidify Friend's plans entering preseason practices.

UGA position groups to improve: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
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Georgia doesn't open spring practice until March 18, so we'll use the next few weeks to look ahead to those all-important workouts and preview what to watch once the Bulldogs get started.

Today we continue a series where we examine five position groups with room to improve. After touching on the inside linebackers on Monday, we move on to the offensive line group that must replace three starters.

4. Offensive line

[+] EnlargeDavid Andrews
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIDavid Andrews returns to anchor the offensive line.
Battling for No. 1: This is perhaps one of the most interesting position groups to watch this spring. Offensive line coach Will Friend seemed fairly comfortable with most of his lineup last fall, with center David Andrews, left tackle Kenarious Gates and right guard Chris Burnette starting all 13 games and left guard Dallas Lee starting 12. It was the right tackle spot that felt like a revolving door at times, with John Theus starting eight games and Kolton Houston six. With Gates, Burnette and Lee all out of the picture now, there should be plenty of competition to fill their spots -- and just as much at essentially every position but center, where Andrews seems entrenched as a starter. Friend seemed to like what then-freshman Brandon Kublanow brought to the lineup last season at guard, so he might be one candidate to keep an eye on during the spring. But who Friend will insert into the tackle spots seems difficult to predict. Theus and Houston certainly had their ups and downs last season, but they are far and away the most experienced tackles on the roster at this point.

Strength in numbers: Georgia finally has depth along the line that seemed to be lacking for far too long. Guards Watts Dantzler, Mark Beard and Greg Pyke could all be candidates for legitimate playing time -- and maybe even starting jobs – but reserve tackles Xzavier Ward and Zach DeBell only add to the mystery at their position, having contributed very little on game day to this point. Reserve center Hunter Long is in a similar situation since rising senior Andrews has taken essentially every significant snap over the last two seasons.

New on the scene: In guard Josh Cardiello and swingman Aulden Bynum, the Bulldogs add two candidates to the rotation after redshirting last fall. Both players participated in spring practice as early enrollees last year, although it was apparent they were unlikely to contribute on a veteran line in the fall. This year's line signees -- tackles Dyshon Sims, Jake Edwards and Kendall Baker and guard Isaiah Wynn -- are not expected on campus until summer, so they will need to have surprisingly strong August camps in order to crack Friend's rotation in the fall. Sims and Wynn, who was the No. 106 overall prospect in the ESPN 300, seem like the most probable contributors among the freshmen.

Post-spring position review: OL 

April, 19, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next two weeks, we’ll take a closer look at each of Georgia’s position groups at the end of spring practice. Today we examine the offensive line:

Returning players/stats: Chris Burnette, Sr. (12 starts in 2012); Kenarious Gates, Sr. (14 starts); Dallas Lee, Sr. (14 starts); David Andrews, Jr. (14 starts); Mark Beard, Jr. (Two starts); John Theus, So. (14 starts); Austin Long, Sr.; Watts Dantzler, Jr.; Zach DeBell, So.; Hunter Long, Jr.; Xzavier Ward, So.; Greg Pyke, RFr.

Newcomers: Brandon Kublanow, Fr. (ESPN's No. 145 overall prospect in 2013, No. 2 center. Expected to enroll this summer); Aulden Bynum, Fr. (No. 47 OT. Enrolled in January); Josh Cardiello, Fr. (No. 21 OG. Enrolled in January); DeVondre Seymour, Fr. (No. 14 OT. Could enroll this summer)

Position scouting report: OT 

January, 17, 2013
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Editor’s note: Over the next several weeks, we’ll take a look at each position on Georgia’s depth chart and project how it might look in the future. Today we examine Georgia’s offensive tackles:

2012 two-deep depth chart:
LT: Kenarious Gates (Jr.), Mark Beard (So.)
RT: John Theus (Fr.), Watts Dantzler (So.)

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Dawgs Snapshot 2013: Aulden Bynum 

December, 25, 2012
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To gear up for 2013 national signing day, DawgNation's Radi Nabulsi is breaking down every commitment in the Bulldogs' 2013 recruiting class.

Vitals: Offensive tackle Aulden Bynum, Valdosta, Ga./Valwood | 6-foot-5, 260 pounds

Committed: April 6, 2012

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UGA midseason report card: OL 

October, 11, 2012
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Editor’s note: Georgia’s football season is at the halfway mark, and the Bulldogs will take this weekend off before resuming SEC play next Saturday at Kentucky. We'll take a look at a different position group each day this week and evaluate how it performed in the first half of the season in our DawgNation midseason report cards.

ATHENS, Ga. -- The public opinion of Georgia’s offensive line was, for a time, much more positive than it is today, after the Bulldogs’ numerous breakdowns led directly to a 35-7 loss at South Carolina.

Will Friend’s rebuilt line had been surprisingly effective in the first five games, paving the way for Georgia to rank among the nation’s most explosive offenses.

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Upon Further Review: UGA 56, FAU 20 

September, 17, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- After rewatching Georgia’s 56-20 win against Florida Atlantic on ESPN3 today, I can’t say that I learned much that wasn’t apparent from watching the game live.

The Bulldogs’ first-team offense was as good as I’ve seen it, there was an ugly first half for Georgia’s defense and the game eventually turned into a bludgeoning. But let’s jump into some of the finer points of the Bulldogs’ win in this week’s “Upon Further Review.”

• This is one of those situations where you ask if someone wants the good news or the bad news first. I prefer the bad news first in such a scenario, and that would be that Georgia’s defense had a truly awful first half against another opponent which had no business moving the ball so effectively.

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Notebook: Samuel back as top tailback? 

August, 2, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Ken Malcome became Georgia’s presumptive starting tailback after Isaiah Crowell’s dismissal in June, but his status atop the depth chart is far from concrete.

With senior Richard Samuel returning to the position full-time -- following a spring during which he also played fullback -- and freshmen Keith Marshall and Todd Gurley officially joining the competition at Thursday’s first preseason practice, Malcome still must earn the starting spot.

“They’ve done a great job of absorbing everything,” quarterback Aaron Murray said of the new freshmen, “but we have Richard, who’s probably going to get the majority of the reps, so I know he knows everything. And when it comes to the game plan, actually, it’s not like you’re putting the whole offense into the game plan. So it definitely gets narrowed down and they’ll be able to narrow down their focus onto a certain amount of plays that they’ll need to work on for that week.”

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Around the Hedges in 80 Days: H. Long 

July, 26, 2012
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Thirty-seven days remain until Georgia kicks off its season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 1. In the days counting down to the opener, DawgNation will profile, with our “Around the Hedges in 80 Days” series, a Bulldogs player we expect to make an impact. We will review each player’s career thus far and project his long-term potential as we progress through our alphabetical list, from center David Andrews to receiver Rantavious Wooten.

37. Hunter Long
Sophomore, Offensive line
6-foot-4, 300 pounds


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Sixty-one days remain until Georgia kicks off its season opener against Buffalo on Sept. 1. In the days counting down to the opener, DawgNation will profile, with our “Around the Hedges in 80 Days” series, a Bulldogs player we expect to make an impact. We will review each player’s career thus far and project his long-term potential as we progress through our alphabetical list, from center David Andrews to receiver Rantavious Wooten.


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Spring practice No. 13: G-Day nears 

April, 12, 2012
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Typically by this point in spring practice, Coach Mark Richt expects a fairly listless performance from his players with the G-Day game only a couple of days away.

Richt said after Thursday’s final practice in full pads that he was surprised by the level of intensity the Bulldogs displayed.

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To get ready for the start of Georgia’s spring football practice Tuesday, DawgNation will do a position breakdown each day and feature one player to watch at that position. Today we look at the offensive line and newcomer Mark Beard.

ATHENS, Ga. -- There are few positions on Georgia’s roster where many players will make their first career starts this fall -- not counting the offensive line.

Georgia has three experienced guards in Dallas Lee, Chris Burnette and Kenarious Gates, but the line will otherwise be about as green as it gets.

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Spring look: Offensive line

March, 16, 2012
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To get ready for the start of Georgia’s spring football practice Tuesday, DawgNation will do a position breakdown each day. Today we analyze the offensive line. On Saturday we will look at the defensive line.

2011 starters: OT: Cordy Glenn, 2011 Sr.; Justin Anderson, 2011 Sr.; C: Ben Jones, 2011 Sr.; OG: Chris Burnette, Jr.; Dallas Lee, Jr.

Key losses: Glenn, Anderson, Jones
Reserves: OG/OT Kenarious Gates, Jr.; Mark Beard, So.; OT: Austin Long, Jr.; Watts Dantzler, So.; Zach DeBell, RFr.; Xzavier Ward, RFr.; OG: Hunter Long, So.; Kolton Houston, So.; C David Andrews, So.

New faces: Junior college transfer Beard enrolled in January and has three years of eligibility remaining. He has played offensive tackle throughout his football career and could play the position at Georgia, but guard is also a possibility. Ward and DeBell also join the active competition after redshirting last season.

(Read full post)

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